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Your guide to the 2021 EPISD School Board Election

El Paso Matters wants to help you navigate the 2021 El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees election.

We asked candidates from every district race a handful of questions to help you decide who you want to represent your district.

We sent questionnaires to every candidate and reminders when we didn’t get responses by the deadline. We asked candidates to limit responses to 100 words. Responses are lightly edited for grammar and to fit the word count.

Which seats are up for election?

The District 1, 3, 4 and 5 seats are up for election this year.

Not sure if your trustee position is up for election? First, go here to find which precinct you live in. Then determine which EPISD district your precinct is in by referencing the map below.

District 1

Who’s running for this seat?

Arturo Dominguez is a retired high school teacher and tennis coach who worked in EPISD and the Gadsden ISD.

Leah Hanany is a Career and Technology Education (CTE) teacher in YISD and parent of two EPISD students.

Jennie Tipton Lasley is CEO of Real Classroom Solutions, which focuses on dual language classroom materials.

What grade would you give EPISD’s COVID-19 response? What would you have done differently?

Arturo Dominguez: Solid B. Going virtual for the first half of this school year was the right decision, and so was the decision to return to limited in-class instruction as long as it was safe for everyone. However, the return should have been combined with a strong lobbying effort to have EPISD employees qualify for vaccines prior to their return. Although this has now changed, the next step is to actually get employees vaccinated. Just like a specific number of vaccines are already set aside for super seniors, a percentage of new vaccines should be set aside for teachers and staff.

Leah Hanany: I have three children who experienced COVID learning first-hand, including two currently attending EPISD schools. One student thrived and one struggled. I also taught virtually. I saw personally how little a one-size-fits-all approach to education works and how educational technology is better as a supplement than a solution. Relationship building is critical because of the support structure it lends to students and families; it felt absent. I did feel that EPISD approached the return to face-to-face instruction with both safety and learning in mind, but there were hard lessons learned, including the need for preemptive and high-quality operations planning.

Jennie Tipton Lasley: I would give EPISD a B. I know it has been so hard for everyone, but I would have wanted them to be more transparent about the rationale and thinking that went on about decisions. This was an opportunity for the district to show confidence and build trust and plans could have been better communicated.

How should EPISD address COVID-19 learning loss?

Arturo Dominguez: Studies have shown that the education gap has only grown larger as students with limited technological capability and unstable home life have been left to figure out ways to ensure their continued virtual attendance. This lost time will never be recovered without additional instruction. First, I would recommend extending the school year or making summer school available for all students. I would also support partnering with local organizations to conduct one-on-one or small group tutoring. Finally, parents need to be provided with the resources to help them encourage their children to pursue educational advancement at home.

Leah Hanany: I believe that post-pandemic schooling needs to prioritize social and emotional wellness, and that we must commit to aligning our human and community resources to support student mental health. We have to be careful that when we make policy decisions we are not projecting adult anxiety onto children by emphasizing quantity over quality. What didn’t work before won’t work now. We must appropriate federal funding swiftly, prioritizing the needs of our most vulnerable students including those who have been habitually absent from the virtual learning environment, and apply an equity lens to summer school offerings.

Jennie Tipton Lasley: Effective teaching can address learning loss no matter the circumstances. I think we are going to have to start by finding out where students are academically so we can address their specific needs.

What are you looking for in the new superintendent?

Arturo Dominguez: First, he or she must have a clear vision for the district that takes into account the culture and sensibilities of the community. Second, he or she must be an effective communicator who engages in frequent dialogue with members of the community. El Paso is a unique community where many students and parents speak Spanish at home. So being a good communicator would require someone who speaks Spanish fluently. Finally, he or she must be a great leader who will be completely committed to improving the district, and not be distracted by consulting businesses on the side.

Leah Hanany: I am looking for a leader with both teaching and educational leadership experience, whose educational mission aligns with the community’s needs and who subscribes to a philosophy of collaborative visioning and transparency. I am looking for a leader who has a record of success in curriculum and instruction, strategic planning and community engagement, and who commits to be a champion for equity and access. This person should understand the systemic causes of inequity affecting our students and be able to establish and enhance an inspiring culture for our entire school community. An understanding of English Language Learner supports is critical.

Jennie Tipton Lasley: I am looking for a superintendent that has had experience in the school system. I think being a teacher and an administrator goes a long way in understanding the challenges we face. I also want someone that values reading and wants to focus on early childhood learning. Finally, being local would be great, as would a love for our community and kids.

How would you approach school closure and consolidation decisions?

Arturo Dominguez: These are a district competitive issue. It means we are not attracting or retaining enough students to maintain full enrollment. School closures could happen again but the metrics for it should be based on objective data that takes into account population growth and enrollment trends, as well as age of facilities and cost to upgrade. The focus should be on disruption to the fewest students while preserving jobs for all affected employees. An advisory board should be constituted from the beginning, and it should be involved in meaningful discussions. General meetings to discuss the possible closures should be in the open.

Leah Hanany: Our most important goal should be providing a high-quality education to every student, and we should favor improved educational opportunities over resource conservation when they are neutral outcomes. Community engagement is key. We must work to use public commentary as a guiding voice, but we can’t just ask for community input — we have to listen to it. Finally, before consensus is made on a school closure, we must first ensure that there is a transition plan for displaced students, that the alternate school can support the influx of new students, and that the individualized plans of special education students under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act can and will be met.

Jennie Tipton Lasley: We need to look at all the data and share it with everyone. Schools can be built or remodeled to support students in populated attendance zones, so we probably need to revisit those before making any decision on school closures. We also can look at school designs to ensure that campuses are accommodating the boundary it serves. With parent and community engagement, then, and only then, could we come to terms on the right decision to keep a school open or closed. Finally, schools are buildings. We need to focus more on what goes on in the building rather than the building itself.

How should EPISD approach issues of equity?

Arturo Dominguez: Inequity has always been a problem in the school district. In Alvarado v. EPISD in the 1970s the federal courts found that the district had actively engaged in racist and discriminatory practices centered around the Bowie HS community. And history is repeating itself with the selective school closures and the building of the new bus hub at Bowie HS. I will make sure that future similar decisions will be transparent and based on actual objective factors and that the input from the community will be respected. EPISD has to give every family in El Paso access to high quality schools.

Leah Hanany: I believe we should call for the district to develop an equity action plan with evidence of implementation indicators that incorporates equity into the foundational structure of operations, builds capacity, and identifies and addresses barriers that perpetuate opportunity and achievement gaps. I believe we should also provide ongoing training specific to culturally responsive and equitable teaching practices, including cultural competence and social justice. We must also provide welcoming environments for families, including translating important documents into Spanish and providing a translator at meetings so that families of diverse backgrounds can be engaged in the educational process.

Jennie Tipton Lasley: Providing equity in education is a very large and all-encompassing responsibility. First, our budget must be distributed equitably rather than equally because our budget is reflective of or values. Second, we need to align equity with access to high quality learning environments. Finally, our staff needs to reflect the population it serves. Our approach to equity should focus on making sure our students have everything that they need to be successful in school, post high school graduation so that they could be productive citizens in our society here and around the world.

District 3

Who’s running for this seat?

Josh Acevedo is the CARES Engagement Manager at UTEP. He was first elected to the board in 2019.

Rene Fierro is the parent of an EPISD student.

Leslie Hoard is a Realtor.

What grade would you give EPISD’s COVID-19 response? What would you have done differently?

Josh Acevedo: B-. I believe the district enacted appropriate COVID-19 safety protocols. They have also worked to accommodate our most vulnerable employees, with telework, until they were vaccinated. Now, all our employees have an opportunity to get vaccinated. While every student at EPISD was provided with a laptop or iPad and a mobile hotspot, if needed, a digital divide still emerged. There are many parents that needed guidance on using these devices. The district did provide sufficient resources, in certain neighborhoods, to close these gaps.

Rene Fierro: A passing grade because of the tremendous work of the teachers and staff but low grade for school boards indecisiveness. There should have been a plan to open schools in August to start the school year at the normal date, instead the district moved up the start date then changed it multiple times afterward. Elementary schools should have opened at least part time on split schedules AM/PM or two days a week. This would have reduced class sizes to comply with social distancing but also allowed every student the opportunity to meet weekly with their teacher for in person instruction in a smaller group with more focused attention.

Leslie Hoard: It’s easy to look back and say what we would have done differently, hindsight is 20/20. But we have to remember that this was an unprecedented situation which none of us had any first hand experience with prior to this past year. But if I had been on the board I would have probably tried to advocate harder for EPISD teachers to be considered essential personnel so that they could be vaccinated in the first groups if they wanted. Public schools in other districts in El Paso were able to get that done for their teachers and staff.

How should EPISD address COVID-19 learning loss?

Josh Acevedo: This needs to be the top priority for the next superintendent. Administration needs to work on a detailed plan now to help students recover from educational losses due to the pandemic. The district should assess its schools and allocate resources in a fair way. Some schools need more resources than others. Students should be offered rigorous summer courses that will prepare them for the next school year. The district should also provide tutors, mental health support, and provide parents with educational classes that will equip them with knowledge to help their kids at home.

Rene Fierro: Summer school should be offered to all students. Teachers might help to recommend students who would benefit due to the loss of learning. The district might also consider mandatory summer school for some students and should definitely identify those not ready to advance to the next grade level and take appropriate action.

Leslie Hoard: I have spoken with hundreds of members of District 3 and many have great ideas about things we could do to improve student achievement. The consensus seems to be that we need to think creatively about ways we can increase quality instructional time. My neighbors have brainstormed about instituting a homework or tutoring hotline or “Zoom-line” run by NHS students and/or UTEP students so that struggling students can call in for help. Karin Chenoweth has compiled some practical ideas for increasing student achievement in her book, “How It’s Being Done: Urgent Lessons from Unexpected Schools” and I would love to see some of those implemented.

What are you looking for in the new superintendent?

Josh Acevedo: I hope that our next superintendent is from our community because they will be able to understand and address the needs of our district – on day one. This individual needs to engage with the community, be a strong advocate for public schools, transparent, and accountable. They must commit to allocating resources for EPISD families in an equitable way that will provide a top-notch education to all students, in every zip code. Upon taking office, the next superintendent must address two pressing matters – the ramifications sustained by our students’ education, due to the pandemic, and declining enrollment.

Rene Fierro: I think experience working with or in public education (K-12) is important, perhaps more so than the level of education or equivalent experience. I also want someone who doesn’t see being superintendent as an executive or administrative position but as a public servant who will factor the interest of the greater El Paso community into his or her decisions and consider how the decision will have an impact beyond the school district and also be aware of how the decisions made in the community effect the district.

Leslie Hoard: I would like to see an El Pasoan as EPISD Superintendent. I would like to see someone in that position that understands the culture of El Paso and the unique challenges that our students and families face. And it needs to be someone who is primarily motivated by the satisfaction of high student achievement for its own sake, and not amassing great personal wealth at the expense of students and taxpayers. We need long term stability if we’re going to improve things so it needs to be someone who will be in it for the long haul.

How would you approach school closure and consolidation decisions?

Josh Acevedo: First, administration needs to develop a transparent plan for closures and consolidations, including a transition plan. This needs to be in place before EPISD decides to seek another bond. The plan should be developed with community input and posted on the district website. The community should be given at least a year to provide feedback on any potential closure or consolidation. Families also need at least two years to prepare for the transition to another campus. Post-closure, students should transition only to better schools and the district needs to engage families and provide them with resources for a smooth transition.

Rene Fierro: Closing schools should be a last resort, not a first option, when budget cuts become necessary. Those living within the school boundaries should have a fair process that directly solicits their involvement. I also think building new or modernizing existing, old and/or shuttered schools is a better strategy for the district to attract students, boost enrollment and see growth rather than cramming students into fewer schools and classrooms and doing little or nothing to combat the attrition rates. The open enrollment policy at public schools across the region may also affect enrollment figures for some schools, especially those in traditionally undeserved areas of El Paso.

Leslie Hoard: I realize that sometimes it’s necessary to make decisions like consolidations for financial reasons. But I would not vote to consolidate any schools unless the kids at both schools receive more of everything. Consolidations can be beneficial to both the district AND the students and teachers if handled correctly. If you’re going to move extra students from one school into another school, there needs to be enough of everything so that the opportunities for both populations do not shrink. I would see that as a chance to negotiate for increased amenities and opportunities for the kids attending the school—more art, music, sports, drama, clubs, etc.

How should EPISD approach issues of equity?

Josh Acevedo: The first place to start is the EPISD budget. District finances need to be approached with an equitable lens, not a business mentality. Every year, the district designates dollars for each school. This money needs to be allocated in a fair way, based on need, at each school. This approach works toward dismantling institutional racism. Many parents at the district want to be involved in their child’s education, but do not know how to get involved. EPISD can educate parents with knowledge that will increase their social and cultural capital and enhance their involvement in their child’s education.

Rene Fierro: When I think about equity it’s not just about what services are offered and are they offered equally, but what is not being offered? I think services for early childhood and high school education are areas that are most ripe for innovation and improvement while I would be careful about asking teachers to deviate from their preferred and proven methods of teaching basic reading, writing and math. I would emphasize the benefits of athletics and physical education curriculum on health and mental health and the correlation with education and learning and look for ways to use that as incentives for improving student performance, progress and recruitment/retention.

Leslie Hoard: Different kids have different needs and levels of need, but all kids deserve access to the educational resources they need when they need them regardless of the school they attend in EPISD. A student has a 4 to 5 times greater statistical chance of attending a 4 year university if they go to Franklin or Coronado High School versus Austin High School. That is unacceptable. It should not matter what school your child goes to in EPISD. All schools need to be focused on high student achievement and if the school needs more resources to get there, then the district should be providing those.

District 4

Who’s running for this seat?

Frances De Santos Whitaker is a retired educator. 

Diane Dye is a retired teacher and seasonal tax preparer. She was first elected to the board in 2013. 

Betty Ann Halliburton is a retired child care director.  

Photo not submitted

Isabel Hernandez is a grant analyst with the county.

Fainot Pierre is an entrepreneur and diesel technician. 

Photo not submitted

Claudia Soto is a homemaker.

What grade would you give EPISD’s COVID-19 response? What would you have done differently?

Frances De Santos Whitaker: EPISD has adequately handled the pandemic. There are students who flourished with remote learning and others who struggled. Our teachers have experienced similar results as the students. It’s definitely time for us to begin looking at changes to traditional learning. The district is following CDC guidelines while ensuring that the students who need support are receiving it. It is important to make sure that teachers and school staff are treated as essential workers and have the necessary personal equipment and resources without having to purchase it themselves. Working with a health provider to get all school personnel vaccinated before returning to campuses is something I would have done differently.

Diane Dye: Excellent. Organizing a Virtual Learning Network and Drive Thru Breakfast/Lunch Program for 48,000 students are both daunting tasks. EPISD’s Technology Department acquired and imaged laptops, iPads, Hot Spots and set up Tech Hot Lines. Curriculum Departments acquired/created resources including paper packets. EPISD spent $23 million from Reserve Funds for comprehensive PPE inventory and still awaits State reimbursement. February 2021 virtual learning waivers expired. TEA threatened withholding funds if schools didn’t reopen. EPISD was forced to open and staff schools with only 10 days notice. The hard work, ingenuity, and passion EPISD personnel have for students and their education should be praised.

Betty Ann Halliburton: EPISD is following the laws of the land during COVID-19, Grade A

Isabel Hernandez: I would give EPISD a grade of “C” since some children do not have the most recent tablets or laptops to do their work efficiently.

Fainot Pierre: I’m not prepared to grade our COVID-19 response yet. Sadly, the pandemic has highlighted the weaknesses and lack of awareness of our school district. We don’t have the resources to provide PPEs and vaccinations to students, teachers, and staff. I pledge to work with students, teachers, and staff to create a sensible COVID strategy that promotes school safety. Furthermore, I will work expeditiously on COVID-19 response with our stakeholders to ensure our students, teachers, and staff are tested and vaccinated.

Claudia Soto: Did not respond to our questionnaire

How should EPISD address COVID-19 learning loss?

Frances De Santos Whitaker: Along with offering remediation and reinforcement opportunities in extended day and intersession settings, teachers should be offered professional development in bundling TEKS while planning lessons to meet the needs of the students.

Diane Dye: EPISD will address COVID-19 learning loss by analyzing each student’s mastery of the specific skills that TEA mandates. Each school will design traditional, as well as, creative strategies designed to close the learning gap for each student. It will have a mix of strategies to include classroom engagement activities, before school and after school activities, and Saturday reinforcing activities. Teachers, as a whole and individually, are very creative and will do what is necessary for the improvement of students’ skills.

Betty Ann Halliburton: Learning losses will need to be remediated by teachers

Isabel Hernandez: Once elected, the Board of Trustees will work on new strategies.

Fainot Pierre: I echo the district’s decision to remain virtual concerning CDC guidelines and health protocols in the event COVID-19 cases worsen. That said, I understand that in-person learning is quintessential for our students’ growth — It is not my intention to cheapen its importance. But our students, teachers, and staff are our most precious resources. We need to do everything we can to protect them. I pledge to work with our superintendent to find ways to mitigate students’ learning loss. I pledge to work with our State Reps and State Senator to advocate for more funding for public education to ensuring that students can safely return to school.

What are you looking for in the new superintendent?

Frances De Santos Whitaker: Some qualities that I would look for in a Superintendent are someone who builds relationships so that students, parents and teachers have opportunities to be involved in decision making; aspires to be a servant leader; frequently engages with the students, teachers, parents and community; is visible within the community; demonstrates passion for the district.

Diane Dye: The superintendent is the face of the EPISD and must hold him/herself to the highest standard and model by example. He/she must communicate well with students, parents, community groups, local governments, TEA, TASB, state legislators, the military community and EPISD trustees. Expectations of the superintendent are to be completely transparent with the EPISD budget, find corporate/foundation grants enhancing EPISD programs and stretch budget dollars, share EPISD with our community through regular media releases, ensure all EPISD employees adhere to EPISD policy and Texas school code, and implement the goals set by the EPISD board and TEA.

Betty Ann Halliburton: The new superintendent should be trustful and honest

Isabel Hernandez: I am looking for a hardworking and ethical educator.

Fainot Pierre: Our next superintendent must have stellar credentials, good judgment, and remarkable people skills. He or she needs to be reliable and free of all conflicts of interest. Furthermore, he or she needs to be an experienced educator. Contrary to popular beliefs, the district employees and parents must play a role in the process. It will promote transparency and restoring our community’s faith in our public school.

How would you approach school closure and consolidation decisions?

Frances De Santos Whitaker: Transparency is crucial in making decisions about school closures and consolidations. These types of decisions require active participation from the community throughout the district. A district community member “task force” could potentially use rubrics to rate facilities based on age, safety and what it would cost to renovate vs. consolidate.

Diane Dye: There must be a districtwide citizens committee of approximately one hundred members of the EPISD community formed similar to the eighty person 2016 Citizens Bond Project Advisory Committee. The committee will be given all the data available for each school. After careful group deliberation, the group would determine the schools to close and/or consolidate. The group’s recommendations would go to the EPISD Board of Trustees for advisement and vote.

Betty Ann Halliburton: Schools maybe closed for poor academic performance, unsafe building, and low attendance.

Isabel Hernandez: I would be open to discussion before decisions are made final.

Fainot Pierre: School closures are out of the question. All told, this cruel practice has disproportionately targeted schools in the northeast and low-income areas in our community. I’m passionate about this issue, and I look forward to working with our State Reps and Senator to find appropriate funding for our public school.

How should EPISD approach issues of equity?

Frances De Santos Whitaker: Although board trustees are chosen by their respective district, all board members should work in tandem for all schools within the district. All schools should be given equal opportunities, then each principal should work with their teams to determine whether their students would benefit from these opportunities.

Diane Dye: EPISD already deals with issues of equity: a. Open Enrollment whereby any student may enroll in any EPISD campus if there is capacity at the chosen campus; b. Federal Title I schools. Schools with a low income economic base receive extra funding; and c. The EPISD receives special grant monies for Before School, After School, Saturday programs, as well as, Extracurricular Activities such as Chess Clubs, TEDX Clubs, Physical Training courses. EPISD should place its Best Teachers in those schools and classrooms where low performance has been identified. Teachers would be paid a bonus when students demonstrate predetermined growth and mastery goals.

Betty Ann Halliburton: EPISD should approach equity on a case- by- case bases

Isabel Hernandez: All children have the right to learn regardless of their race, gender, disability or any other protected class.

Fainot Pierre: The pandemic brought to light the disparities and systematic inequality in our education system. Moreover, there is a greater need for proper PPEs and vaccines as we’re transitioning to in-person learning. Historically, District 4 has been impacted by school closures and run-down buildings. If elected, I will work with urgency to make sure the northeast has equitable and fair representation. I’ll seek students, teachers, and unions’ inputs to ensure that EPISD is heading in the right direction. I will set forth monthly updates to ensure that our bond dollars are spent on time and efficiently.

District 5

Who’s running for this seat?

Vanessa Betts is a children’s book author.

Willeta Corbett is a retired EPISD teacher and administrator who also taught in Gadsden ISD.

Stephen Hayes Sr. is a retired federal law enforcement officer and parent of three EPISD students.

Israel Irrobali works in the city of El Paso’s Economic and International Development Development and as its legislative liaison, and is the parent of an EPISD student.

Jerome Tilghman is a retired teacher.

What grade would you give EPISD’s COVID-19 response? What would you have done differently?

Vanessa Betts: Considering this has been an unprecedented year, the best way of assessing a grade, is to say they passed or failed. I believe EPISD used extreme precaution to ensure the safety of the students, educators, and support staff, based on the information which was given to them. In reducing the amount of traffic in the classroom, and the amount of exposure associated with face-to-face learning, the district was forced to be flexible ensuring learning was not interrupted entirely. Vaccinating educators and support staff should’ve been a priority before returning students to the classroom.

Willeta Corbett: Approximately, 1,400 district employees have been vaccinated through UMC. The district has partnered with UMC, Immunize El Paso, and local legislators to expand the 1B Category to include teachers. Teachers are essential, period. I know that staff members joined Food Service to distribute meals to students in all areas of the district during the lockdown. Administration has worked to modify, revamp or alter plans as guidelines, circumstances and conditions have warranted. I would rate their response as very good.

Stephen Hayes: D. Protecting students and staff’s health by going virtual was the right thing to do. Moving to virtual learning, however, was done poorly. TEA has certified several on-line schools; those programs should have been consulted for lessons learned. By May it was clear many children were failing in a virtual environment. The summer should have been spent planning and canvassing teachers and parents with a plan for those who needed to be in a classroom to be able to return safely in the fall. Recognizing not all parents are available and able to be assistant teachers and providing additional support should also have been addressed but was not.

Israel Irrobali: B-. From a parent’s perspective, I believe more could be done to engage our students and ensure they are receiving the same quality of education they would receive in the classroom. Another issue facing parents is the lack of engagement and communications. From teachers’ and administrators’ perspectives, there is a lack of communication internally. I would have modified the communications strategy to reach a larger population of parents, guardians, students, and teachers. Additionally, I would propose the creation of Campus COVID-19 plans that explain how each campus would be operated under the new guidelines and regulations.

Jerome Tilghman: C – Teachers, Admin & Support staff not initially prioritized

How should EPISD address COVID-19 learning loss?

Vanessa Betts: Realistically, it’s impossible to retrieve the learning time that was lost as a result of the pandemic. However, our greater concern needs to be the certainty that educators, support staff and (and eventually students) are vaccinated. Schools must be sufficiently sanitized and ventilated; then will teachers feel confident and eager to return to schools and incite students for post pandemic learning. This will be a process, but allowing teachers to teach students rather that, teaching the test will yield better benefits in recovering from this dilemma.

Willeta Corbett: The academic setbacks due to COVID-19 are most likely to only widen the achievement gap for students of color, special needs, and low socio-economic status. I am sure the appropriate departments within EPISD have worked to provide additional supports as students re-entered after months of virtual learning. The district has helped to “close the digital divide” by providing access to the internet and technology for students. TEA Commissioner Mike Morath mentioned extending the school year and summer school as possible ways to address COVID-19 learning loss. Instructionally, ability grouping, simplifying the curriculum and modifying learning goals are classic responses used by teachers when students are not finding success.

Stephen Hayes: First the learning loss should not be addressed as a single problem. There are three different levels of students to bring back into a single classroom. Those who have never shown up online have to start from scratch, those who have not adapted well and need refresher but are somewhere in the middle, and lastly those who have thrived and have little to no loss. Expecting teachers in already overcrowded classrooms to conduct three classes is unreasonable. First, evaluate and classify the students. Second, outline and shift students into learning level grouping and thirdly target additional support and teachers’ aides to those furthest behind.

Israel Irrobali: We need to implement a process that gauges the level of learning loss. Traditionally, the STAAR test would be used to gauge the level of educational retention. However, I would be willing to work with the district to implement a more innovative way to ascertain where our children are at today and how the pandemic has impacted their education and social development. If the data proves there is significant education loss, I will propose a tiered support system is implemented. This system would group students together that have experienced the same level of educational loss and develop a curriculum that assists them in getting back on track.

Jerome Tilghman: Extended hours to the regular school day w/ teacher compensation; Extended school year; reduced summer break.

What are you looking for in the new superintendent?

Vanessa Betts: The new superintendent should be someone local, who understand the dynamics of El Paso and its diverse cultures and lastly, someone who is approachable, transparent, qualified, trustworthy, and exhibits a willingness to lead by example.

Willeta Corbett: The qualities of a good superintendent include: 1) A culturally responsive school leader with extensive knowledge of best instructional practices and, 2) Our new superintendent should have knowledge of the unique community of El Paso, and frankly, be an outstanding leader already within EPISD. In this way, we have someone with “built-in” loyalty and familiarity with our district and city. A third quality is someone with high ethical standards. As a superintendent, he or she must be a responsible guardian of the public trust and lead with both integrity and humility.

Stephen Hayes: EPISD faces two distinct and conflicting crises in the upcoming years. First the economic and budget shortfalls, and the learning transition and pandemic issues could be considered conflicting issues. I would look for a superintendent who is cognizant of the issues and has a plan to balance the solutions. Second, EPISD is a very diverse school district with a full range of students from military dependents to a significant percentage of ESL students from first or second generation immigrant families. A successful superintendent must be one who has a plan for re-engaging parents and families as active participants in the learning process and providing the necessary support for the differing needs.

Israel Irrobali: Above all else, the new superintendent needs to be experienced, qualified and most importantly, invested in the betterment of our kids, school district and community. At the end of the day, the superintendent is a public servant. An effective public servant needs to have the following qualities/traits: humility, collaborative spirit, empathy, willingness to learn, and active engagement. As a public servant and leader, you engage citizens from all spectrums of life and must work with each of them. I would also support any effort made to find a local candidate that understands the successes and failures of EPISD educational systems and procedures.

Jerome Tilghman: A product of and hired within the border. A working knowledge and familiarity with the unique cultural nuances of the border.

How would you approach school closure and consolidation decisions?

Vanessa Betts: A comprehensive survey should be done to determine the cost effectiveness of closing/ or consolidating schools. All decisions concerning school closures and consolidations should be addressed in a safe and best interest of the student and district. Parents and community should be informed and involved in the conversations concerning such matter with transparency to validate all action taken.

Willeta Corbett: School closures and consolidations is always unpopular and difficult. EPISD has worked on this issue since the 2016 Bond Issue and their presentation “Rightsizing” on the district website reflects a most comprehensive approach: rationalization, community meetings, and variable analyses of closures’ effect on academic programs, personnel, transportation, etc. Campus consolidation is the most viable and beneficial option for the future. Nation-wide, other districts have and are planning for the same as birth rates and enrollments decline.

Stephen Hayes: There are an infinite number of factors and no one will ever be completely happy, but an open, clear and fact-based approach which involves the community and teachers is the only answer. Populations change and move; buildings grow old and eat up maintenance budgets; busing vs walking; easily available and community involvement are all vital considerations.

Israel Irrobali: Before the EPISD Board of Trustees makes any decision, we need to ensure there is enough data and input from all necessary stakeholders (staff, teachers, students, parents, and community leaders). Upon collecting and reviewing all data, the Board will need to make a decision that is best for the district while simultaneously supporting those impacted. Unfortunately, due to decline in enrollment, EPISD must facilitate such conversations. These decisions have long lasting impacts on our employees and our students and must be considered very carefully. Should it be determined that a school closure/consolidation is necessary, we need to ensure to minimize the impact on all those affected.

Jerome Tilghman: Community-based focus groups w/in each trustee district.

How should EPISD approach issues of equity?

Vanessa Betts: Did not answer this question

Willeta Corbett: While working collaboratively as a board, plans for minimizing inequity should be addressed through the board’s vision and goals. We want to offer access to the best across the district. That is one reason why the student/teacher ratio is 22:1. Inequity might be defined in terms of funding, or programs, or staffing. Some campuses have a PTA while others do not. Coronado has had an IB program for several years. Some campuses have teachers with both bachelors and masters degrees. Community schools have a diverse set of needs that should be addressed on a school-by-school basis.

Stephen Hayes: Every student deserves the best education we can provide them. Education is the key to a better future but not every student has the out of school support system to help prepare them. We need to look at each student and see not just them but the family standing behind them. Families without a college graduate are less likely to be knowledgeable enough to help the student find financial aid or develop good study habits which are key to secondary education. We must as a community not just a school system support and provide for those less fortunate through Title 1 programs, active mentoring, and community engagement.

Israel Irrobali: Ensuring EPISD is providing an equitable environment is pivotal to the long-term success of our students, teachers, and district. Each campus, class, and student need to be viewed individually so that we can create and implement targeted strategies that support the socioeconomic and educational demographics of each area. Equity is such a complex issue that I would begin addressing it by ensuring we are looking at these two areas: education equity, and resource and support equity. As an EPISD trustee, I would collaborate with every stakeholder, parent, teacher, and student that want to address the issue of equity.

Jerome Tilghman: Teacher, support staff, admin and community focus group; w/ DEIC representation.

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Reporter: Molly Smith

Design and audience: Michaela Román